Any discussion of alcohol prohibition begins some 100 years ago, when Congress enacted the 18th Amendment and its sidekick, the Volstead Act which together worked to dissemble the nationwide alcohol industry. Conventional wisdom argues that Prohibition failed, as evidenced by Al Capone’s bootlegging and the 1933 amendment repeal.
Older Prohibition Worked
Jack S. Blocker, Jr., argues the opposite. “Death rates from cirrhosis and alcoholism, alcoholic psychosis hospital admissions, and drunkenness arrests all declined steeply during the latter years of the 1910s,” he writes. Following the 1933 repeal, per capita consumption of beer was less than half of the pre-Prohibition period.
Alcohol Prohibition Marketing in Finland
Finland is trotting out its own prohibition. In 2014, the government introduced the Alcohol Act, which, among other things, intended to protect children from sidewalk alcohol advertisements and restrict alcoholic messages on distribution vehicles. Last-minute changes watered down the act to placate retailers and restaurants.
Many countries, including Finland, are fighting the pandemic of binge drinking. Australia has the “We Are Fighting to Save Lives,” New Zealand the “If You Drink then Drive, You’re a Bloody Idiot” campaign, and Canada the “Work Hard Play Hard” campaign.
What Makes Canada’s Marketing Prohibition Powerful
Canada’s program has reaped international respect. The country’s annual drunk-driving fatality rate is 2.61 per 100,000 population. The United States’ rate, in comparison, is 4.54. Anne Lavack, dean of the University of Regina’s faculty of business, says, “In Canada, we’re very good at giving people some courses of action and giving them encouragement that they can actually carry that out.”
How to Pierce the “Fog of Denial”
Suhre & Associates, LLC, who deal with drunk driving legal suits say colleges and students are often who they represent. In his study, “The Role of Mass Media Campaigns in Reducing High-Risk Drinking among College Students,” Boston University School of Public Health professor William DeJong argues something similar. “Information campaigns focusing on negative consequences are unlikely to have much impact on college students’ alcohol consumption,” he says. Such messages will not penetrate the college kid “fog of denial.” Avoid fear appeals, he says, and develop a staged Roberts and Maccoby behavioral approach beginning with awareness and concluding with supports for sustaining change.
Alcohol Prohibition Can Be Cost-Saving
Marketing success is backed up by numbers. In the study, “Effectiveness of Mass Media Campaigns for Reducing Drinking and Driving and Alcohol-Involved Crashes,” published in the 2004 American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers found that mass media campaigns against drunk driving resulted in a 13 percent decrease in alcohol-related crashes and a 30 percent decrease in impaired BAC levels. Also, “In all three sites evaluated, the estimated societal benefits substantially exceeded the costs of developing and airing the campaign messages.”
Like auto salesmanship, successful prohibition branding depends on a potent call to action. Appeal to community, and not individual change. And most importantly, remember: a picture is worth a thousand words, and especially in advertising.